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Sunday, 29 June 2014

Old Mexico: San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan - Page 3

Written by Kelly West
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Each saint has two couples looking after them, and each couple works on a 20 days on-20 days off rotation. The spiritual leader is expected to fund everything involved with looking after their specific saint, that is purchasing of candles, alcohol for ceremonies, hiring of assistants, replacement of plants and flowers at the respective shrines and everything else that goes along with it. The time spent waiting to become a spiritual leader is used to save up enough money to be able to fund their term. 


The spiritual leader is also allowed to open a shop near their accommodations to assist in finances, and they all share in the entrance fees paid to enter the church (20 pesos - $1.50 per person), which is charged to foreigners and Mexicans alike. After our visit with the spiritual leader we were given some free time to explore the market and the village in general before heading to the village of Zinacantan.


The art of weaving by a local from Zinacantan


The first thing you notice when you enter Zinacantan is how quiet it is. Where San Juan Chamula is absolutely bustling with people and bristling with pride and aggression, Zinacantan is just laid back and self-assured. The language they speak in Zinacantan is called Tsotsil, which is also spoken in San Juan Chamula, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. In San Juan Chamula, polygamy is an accepted part of life, whereas in Zinacantan, monogamy is how they do things. 


The church in Zinacantan is also very similar to any other western church you'll see, with pews, the obligatory crucifix at the altar etc., but if you look closely you'll see evidence of their own customs and traditions. Their own worship of the saints takes place in a chapel to the side of the church but you won't see any pine needles or shamanic rituals here. The Vatican does have its say in Zinacantan, but only to an extent. 


We also spent some time with a family from Zinacantan and they showed us how they hand weave their clothing, blankets, scarves etc, and we also found out more about the candles and the eggs that we had initially seen in the church in San Juan Chamula.

Finished Product Zinacantan 

The finished product equals vibrant wall hangings


During Shamanic ceremonies and when the villagers want to pray for something they will leave candles in certain spots in the church. There are different kinds of candles representing different things. There is the animal fat candle which is naturally colored, and used when someone needs to retrieve their spirit from the underworld. You then have your colored candles that correspond to directions and specific prayers i.e. black for west and warding off evil spirits, white for north and also for tortillas, or food for the saints, yellow for south and red for east.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 01 July 2014

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